D&D General "The perfect edition for ___ is this!" [+]

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Discussion time!

Note: this is a + thread. If you start typing out a response criticizing an edition, hit the backspace a bunch. Thanks!

(insert 8 paragraphs of @Snarf Zagyg's witty banter here)

So here's the deal. I'll list out certain scenarios. Tell me what you think the perfect edition of D&D is for that scenario, with an explanation if you like. I'd love to see folks' suggestions on things we might not normally think of. Expanding horizons and all that ;)

For quick play and ease of learning and picking up, the best edition is
For one off-sessions, the best edition is
For strategic and tactical planning, the best edition is
For system mastery, the best edition is
For that hero/superhero feel, my go-to edition is
For dark and gritty, you should use
Want a low magic setting, go with
Player skill matters, so use
For the best player options and customization, go with
Want to convert to a modern or sci-fi setting? Use
If you want a ton of setting/lore material out there, use
The best art and aesthetic is
 

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Quick and Easy? Video Games! I love the Gold Box Games, but Baldur's Gate 1-2 or Solasta are solid. Baldur's Gate 3 might replace those options.

Strategic and Tactical Planning? 4th Edition. Regardless of the flaws, I never enjoyed the tactical aspects of combat more than I did during 4th Edition.

System Mastery? 3.5th Edition. I mean, intentional Ivory Tower design at first, combined with lots of products for option bloat and (inevitable) power creep.

Superhero Feel? 2nd Edition. Casters could be absolutely gonzo, and their spells were not as restricted as 3rd Edition. These were the casters of high fantasy settings, changing entire empires and doing whatever they wanted.

Dark and Gritty? Grim Hollow 3rd Party, Monte Cook's World of Darkness, or just play World of Darkness. A good DM can tell a horror story in any game, but D&D doesn't have much native support for that game style.

Would write more, but back to work I go!
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
For quick play and ease of learning and picking up, the best edition is Basic or OD&D (less to learn than any other edition)
For one off-sessions, the best edition is any edition the group already knows how to play (you don't want to be spending the whole time in a one-off learning a new system)
For strategic and tactical planning, the best edition is 3.xe or 4e, 3.x because of all the player-side options and 4e because of the way most of its adventure encounters are designed around terrain and environment
For system mastery, the best edition is 3.xe (which to me is a bug of the edition rather than a feature, but whatever)
For that hero/superhero feel, my go-to edition is 4e (there's no zero in 4e); failing that, very-high-level play in any of 1e, 3.xe, or 5e
For dark and gritty, you should use anything 1e or earlier, or a heavily kitbashed 3.xe (E6 variant maybe?)
Want a low magic setting, go with any edition, as you'll have to kitbash the hell out of it in any case (e.g. excise or harshly rein in caster classes, rewrite many adventures, etc.) in order to reduce the magic level
Player skill matters, so use 1e or, maybe, 5e if run in that style
For the best player options and customization, go with 5e, and be prepared for char-gen to become a lengthy process
Want to convert to a modern or sci-fi setting? Use 4e or 5e, maybe? Not sure how well any edition would work for this.
If you want a ton of setting/lore material out there, use 2e; or failing that, port the 2e lore wholesale into any other edition
The best art and aesthetic is 6e, I hope; while I've found all of the previous ones good in some art aspects they've all been sadly lacking in others.
 

For quick play and ease of learning and picking up, the best edition is Gamma World 7e, which is based on 4e, though it requires some adaptation to use in a pure-fantasy setting rather than post-apocalyptic science-fantasy. Has most of 4e's balance, but no bloat.
For one off-sessions, the best edition is also GW7e. Zany madcap hijinks. The only issue will be that it's geared for post-apoc science-fantasy, so it may require adaptation if you want to do something else.
For strategic and tactical planning, the best edition is 4e, hands down, at least in terms of tactics. Strategy is probably an older edition, maybe OD&D. You might be able to massage (perspective changes, with a small chance of light house-ruling) Skill Challenges to cover the logistics side though.
For system mastery, the best edition is Pathfinder 1e, if you're okay with having to slap down overpowered BS; 4e, if you don't want to bother with that but still want optimization to be rewarded.
For that hero/superhero feel, my go-to edition is probably 4e, though honestly no edition is particularly superheroic IMO.
For dark and gritty, you should use either 1e, with Ravenloft, or 2e, with Dark Sun. Those two are the quintessential "dark and gritty" options. I guess 1e and its emphasis on Greyhawk might work too, if you want a GoT-style "dark and gritty."
Want a low magic setting, go with anything that isn't 3e/3.5e/PF1e. 5e is the hardest of the remainder to adapt to a low-magic setting, but it's much more doable than 3e and its direct children.
Player skill matters, so use 1e if "player skill" means metagame knowledge, logistics, SOPs, marching order, etc. Otherwise, 4e, because literally no other edition of D&D actually respects the idea of "skill at using the game's rules" half as much as 4e does.
For the best player options and customization, go with Pathfinder, especially if the DM is willing to approve 3.5e content on a case-by-case basis. There's almost nothing you can't do with a "3.PF" game.
Want to convert to a modern or sci-fi setting? Use 4e. I was a player in an excellent science-fantasy setting which had almost no significant tweaks to 4e's rules (two extra skills, IIRC.)
If you want a ton of setting/lore material out there, use 4e, but cross-reference lore from 2e as necessary to fill in any gaps.
The best art and aesthetic is generally 4e, even though it has a few stinkers, but 5e actually has some really good art too. Avoid 2e--great lore, terrible art IME.

A few other example things I think would be good:

If you're hankering for high-flying pulp action, go with 4e, specifically Eberron, but refer back to 3e lore as needed. I am given to understand that, despite designing Eberron with 3e game rules in mind, Rich Baker felt it was an even better fit for 4e's rules.
For post-apocalyptic shenanigans, whether serious or comedic, use GW7e, as noted.
For a beer-and-pretzels game, play BECMI or B/X, at least by reputation. I haven't played either, though I have played Labyrinth Lord, which is apparently based on B/X.
The best option for long-running, high-level play is 4e, accept no substitutes. Yes, things can take longer to work through at high level, but no edition has given as much thematic and mechanical support to high-level play as 4e did.
If you want a long-run game but don't want high level, use 13th Age--if PF is acceptable, this should be too. 13A has by far the best rules for spooling out player advancement, such that even though it has only 10 levels, you could easily stretch that time out to 3-4 years and players would be unlikely to complain, due to the Incremental Advancement rules. It's also just incredibly well-designed.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
If you want a long-run game but don't want high level, use 13th Age--if PF is acceptable, this should be too. 13A has by far the best rules for spooling out player advancement, such that even though it has only 10 levels, you could easily stretch that time out to 3-4 years and players would be unlikely to complain, due to the Incremental Advancement rules. It's also just incredibly well-designed.
Not sure if the OP wants us to stick just with D&D editions; thus far, I have.

That said, 2e as written (or 1e with xp-for-treasure removed) works well for a long-run game without high level - advancement is dead slow and it can take several years to get to even 7th or 8th level. Add in some character-cycling and you're good to go for nearly ever. :)
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Hmm...well, as long as everyone understand that this is, like, my opinion, man...

For quick play and ease of learning and picking up, the best edition is: The original red box!

For one off-sessions, the best edition is: 4e.

For strategic and tactical planning, the best edition is: 4e.

For system mastery, the best edition is: 3.5.

For that hero/superhero feel, my go-to edition is: I'm going to say 4e just because of Epic Destinies.

For dark and gritty, you should use: 1e all the way.

Want a low magic setting, go with: probably none, but I know 2e had extensive campaign books devoted to the concept, like A Mighty Fortress.

Player skill matters, so use: 1e.

For the best player options and customization, go with: 3.5.

Want to convert to a modern or sci-fi setting? Use: 4e.

If you want a ton of setting/lore material out there, use: 2e.

The best art and aesthetic is: gotta have me that Larry Elmore fix. 2e, please!
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
For quick play and ease of learning and picking up, the best edition is
Moldvay/Cook B/X.
(Basic)

For one off-sessions, the best edition is
AD&D (1e).

For strategic and tactical planning, the best edition is
1e or 4e.

For system mastery, the best edition is
3e/PF.

For that hero/superhero feel, my go-to edition is
5e.

For dark and gritty, you should use
OD&D, 1e.

Want a low magic setting, go with
OD&D, B/X, or 1e.

Player skill matters, so use
OD&D, B/X, or 1e.

For the best player options and customization, go with
5e.

Want to convert to a modern or sci-fi setting? Use
I wouldn't. There are better systems than D&D for this.

If you want a ton of setting/lore material out there, use
2e.

The best art and aesthetic is
1e. From the black & white line drawings through the Elmore period of the mid-80s, it has the most consistent and varied art.
Second place is 2e.
 

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
For quick play and ease of learning and picking up, the best edition is Basic 5e rules
For one off-sessions, the best edition is B/X or retroclone equivalent (partial to Beyond the Wall).
For strategic and tactical planning, the best edition is 4e
For system mastery, the best edition is 3.5
For that hero/superhero feel, my go-to edition is 5e
For dark and gritty, you should use 5e with some options, or Shadow of the Demon Lord, which is pretty close to 5e.
Want a low magic setting, go with 4e (strangely, it has a good number of non-magic options)
Player skill matters, so use 1e or equivalent
For the best player options and customization, go with 5e (3.5 has more, but at least 5e dont have a lot of trap options)
Want to convert to a modern or sci-fi setting? Use 5e or 3.5 (already done to death in the d20 era).
If you want a ton of setting/lore material out there, use 2e.
The best art and aesthetic is AiME 5e or Beyond the Wall. Jon Hogdson for the win.
 

For quick play and ease of learning and picking up, the best edition is
4e
For one off-sessions, the best edition is
basic
For strategic and tactical planning, the best edition is
4e
For system mastery, the best edition is
3.5
For that hero/superhero feel, my go-to edition is
4e
For dark and gritty, you should use
2e
Want a low magic setting, go with
4e
Player skill matters, so use
2e
For the best player options and customization, go with
4e
Want to convert to a modern or sci-fi setting? Use
4e
If you want a ton of setting/lore material out there, use
2e
The best art and aesthetic is
2e
 

Hussar

Legend
/snip Replying without reading any other responses.
For quick play and ease of learning and picking up, the best edition is - Moldvay Basic
For one off-sessions, the best edition is - For players who already know the system? 5e. For players I don't know? 4e.
For strategic and tactical planning, the best edition is - 3e D&D
For system mastery, the best edition is - 3e D&D
For that hero/superhero feel, my go-to edition is - Any D&D. They've all been hero/superhero
For dark and gritty, you should use - Not sure
Want a low magic setting, go with - 4e hands down. Only edition you don't actually need any casters.
Player skill matters, so use - 3e
For the best player options and customization, go with - 4e D&D
Want to convert to a modern or sci-fi setting? Use Not sure
If you want a ton of setting/lore material out there, use 2e D&D.
The best art and aesthetic is - 5e D&D.
 


James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I know this is a + thread that I created lol, and I'm not digging on the art in 5e. A lot of it's really good. But am I the only one who liked the concept 5e art better? Man, that was some good art, IMO.
Yeah, like the PHB was really lackluster for the most part. And a few pieces that were good, I noticed were reused from 4e.
 

Hussar

Legend
To be fair, I'm not a huge collector, and I haven't bought a dead tree RPG book in a long time, so, art does tend to be a bit of a lower impact consideration for me, but, the images in the adventures and books that I do have for 5e have some gorgeous pieces in them. Dragon Heist has some really nice pieces in it for evoking Waterdeep. And Candlekeep Mysteries has some great images.

Now, if you want to talk about cartography? Oh, yeah, 3e is hands down the most beautiful maps in the game. I get why Dyson Logos does most of the cartography for 5e adventures, but, I really, really don't like them for my game. For an online player, Dyson Logos are nowhere near pretty enough. I would LOVE to see some pretty maps in my adventures again.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
For ease of play. B/X

One off sessions. 5E

Strategy and tactics. 4E or 2E with optional rules.

System mastery. 3.0

Hero/superhero 3E or 4E

Dark and gritty. 1E

Low magic. 2E using spells and Magic low magic option.

Player skill. 3E.

Modern or Sci Fi 3E or variant eg modern/SWSE/Future.

Setting lore. 2E

Best Art. 5E or late 1E/early 2E.
 

mcmillan

Adventurer
I'll preface this with I've only played 3.5-5e except for some exposure of 2e via Baldur's gate so most of my answers reflect that period unless I have a strong impression of earlier editions

For quick play and ease of learning and picking up, the best edition is
5e - has some quirks, but relatively easy to pick up the basic mechanics and learn details as you play
For one off-sessions, the best edition is
5e - feels the most straight forward to have a self-contained story that fits in one session. I suspect pre-3e would also be good at this
For strategic and tactical planning, the best edition is
4e - this seems like where 4e really shines
For system mastery, the best edition is
3e
For that hero/superhero feel, my go-to edition is
4e - seems like even at 1st level characters are powerful and capable. If moving out of D&D itself, I'd also put 13th age into this category
For dark and gritty, you should use
Don't think the systems I have experience with are best suited, from reputation I'd say 1e AD&D or BECMI would probably be a better fit
Want a low magic setting, go with
4e - given my hero/superhero answer this might be a surprise. But limit the party to martial characters and use the inherent bonus rules so magic items aren't needed for math and would play as smooth as the normal system
Player skill matters, so use
For the best player options and customization, go with

3.5e - though I think Pathfinder and especially pathfinder 2e would be better
Want to convert to a modern or sci-fi setting? Use
4e - with the ease of reflavoring mechanics would be easy to make work. Gamma world is a example of what this might look like
If you want a ton of setting/lore material out there, use
2e - even though I haven't played it, I've pulled a lot of lore from some of these books. Though I'll also note I think 4e has more going on here than it probably gets credit for. A lot of the world building got mixed in with flavor text that was easy to ignore but had some interesting things implied. I still dip into the feywild and Open Grave (undead) books for inspiration. And I never picked them up, but now that it's being revaluated have heard good things about the dragon books and plane above and below
The best art and aesthetic is
5e
 

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
But am I the only one who liked the concept 5e art better?
People probably felt it was too cartoony, but it was so much better than the generic art we add in the first books. It got better with each new books released after that.

For a company so focused on its brand, having a distinctive art style where people would say while stumbling into an image on Google ''ah, that is a D&D art piece for sure'' would be a good goal. Say what you will of Pathfinder or 4e, you know at first sight their provenance.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
For quick play and ease of learning and picking up, the best edition is
B/X

For one off-sessions, the best edition is
B/X

For strategic and tactical planning, the best edition is
For strategic resource management 1e. For tactics 4e.

For system mastery, the best edition is
3.x

For that hero/superhero feel, my go-to edition is
4e

For dark and gritty, you should use
House ruled old-school.

Want a low magic setting, go with
Depends on the feel. I could go with a house-ruled old school or 4e with only martial characters.

Player skill matters, so use
Any old school edition.

For the best player options and customization, go with
4e

Want to convert to a modern or sci-fi setting? Use
5e

If you want a ton of setting/lore material out there, use
2e, but a lot of lore can easily be brought into 5e

The best art and aesthetic is
I can't decide.

I'll add another category: Best "bridge/compromise" edition: 5e
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I don't feel qualified to fully answer this list, but something I thing I should bring to attention of people is the GLOG (goblin laws of gaming), a D&D-based game (you can run a b/x module with them no issue) designed by well, a lot of people. The system is meant to be hacked and modified as you see fit.

Key feature are:

1: ease of use
2: low level/power play (every level you get "something" and at level 5 you retire... or continue, but only get nominal increases per level)
3: fast natural healing, so no "need" for a healer
4: spells don't have levels, very interesting system
5: every PC has a decent baseline fighting ability - a wizard stabbing a goblin with a dagger "works" (oh and daggers are good weapons)
6: SO MANY CLASSES - very easy to make your own, and there are amazing ones out there ( The best Glog classes). I've played a game where I was a antling petty sell-sword, along with a gun-priest and a monkey dad.

(edit: why is it so easy to make classes? because balance is not as important, and you only need to cover 4 levels)

The rules can be found in several places, but the most "orthodox" version is here: this one has a strong "feudal" aspect to it, but that isn't necessary if you don't like it


So what would I use the GLOG for?

For quick play and ease of learning and picking up
For one off-sessions
For dark and gritty
Want a low magic setting,
Player skill matters (there is an ethos in the GLOG: rolling is bad because it may fail! The best plans just work, no roll needed)
For the best player options and customization
 
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Andvari

Explorer
For quick play and ease of learning and picking up, the best edition is
Basic D&D.
For one off-sessions, the best edition is
The edition you and the players are the most familiar with. If you’re not familiar with any, then it is Basic D&D.
For strategic and tactical planning, the best edition is
Any edition allows infinite strategic and tactical planning, though the incentive is greater in earlier editions due to higher lethality. Though if the players are stuck in a video game mindset, an argument could be made for 4th edition.
For system mastery, the best edition is
3.5 as it has an immense amount of optional rules and possibilities, though this can be a double-edged sword.
For that hero/superhero feel, my go-to edition is
4th edition.
For dark and gritty, you should use
BECMI and AD&D make it easier through higher lethality and settings, but it really can be done with any edition.
Want a low magic setting, go with
Any edition.
Player skill matters, so use
BECMI or AD&D.
For the best player options and customization, go with
3.5.
Want to convert to a modern or sci-fi setting? Use
Another game system.
If you want a ton of setting/lore material out there, use
AD&D 2nd edition.
The best art and aesthetic is
Stuff from the BECMI/AD&D era due to artists like Elmore and Easley being so prevalent. The “worst” I think is 4th edition. While the quality of 4E art is excellent, I prefer the less exaggerated and more realistic art of earlier editions.
 
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